Are business class upgrades still a great use of Qantas Points?

Are business class upgrades still a great use of Qantas Points?

SPECIAL REPORT | Using Qantas frequent flyer points to upgrade to premium economy, business class and first class has long been considered one of the best ways to use those points... but with the airline increasing rates from February 2017, do those upgrades still present good value?

For example, after the revised upgrade rates kick in, popular Asian routes to Singapore and Hong Kong will see the difference in points between requesting an upgrade and booking a confirmed business class ticket come down to a mere 10,000 Qantas Points.

So on what routes does a points-based upgrade still make sense, and when are you better off booking a reward seat with your points?

We've crunched the numbers across a range of popular Qantas domestic and international routes to find the answers, and analysed the 'value per point' in each scenario for flights in February 2017.

For outright flight bookings, that's done by comparing the monetary cost of booking a particular flight with the number of frequent flyer points needed to secure the same (less any amounts payable in taxes and fees when making that frequent flyer reward booking).

When it comes to upgrades, we've considered the difference in price between the original fare paid – such as flexible economy – and the cost of buying a ticket in the upgraded cabin, such as business class.

Upgrades on short domestic routes, such as Sydney-Melbourne

The shortest Qantas domestic flights like Sydney-Melbourne are fortunately spared from the upcoming overhaul, with the number of points needed to upgrade from economy to business class remaining as-is.

That allows travellers to extract north of seven cents per point when upgrading from a flexible economy ticket, or a still-impressive six cents per point when using points to move forward from lower-priced economy fares.

Outright business class reward bookings also prove a solid option, while booking an economy flight using points and then using points again to upgrade to business class returns the least value overall.

Upgrades on longer domestic routes, such as Melbourne-Brisbane

Upgrading from a flexible economy ticket remains great value on mid-length domestic flights like Melbourne-Brisbane – also delivering around seven cents per point in value – with upgrades from lower-priced economy tickets too showing their worth.

Outright business class reward bookings again take the bronze, while using points to upgrade economy flights already booked with points continues to be the worst-value way to fly.

Upgrades on east-west flights, such as Sydney-Perth

Frequent east-west flyers get great value by upgrading flexible economy tickets to business class, with each and every point spent unlocking a whopping 14.5 cents in value – the highest return of any route on the Qantas network, based on the fare prices used in our calculations:

Upgrades from lower-cost economy fares aren't to be sniffed at either, and while they offer half as much value per point, they're being used to upgrade tickets which can cost nearly two thirds less than flexible economy.

Using your points to simply book a business class seat also delivers good value, while booking an economy reward ticket and using points a second time to upgrade still offers a reasonable value per point spent, but while burning through far more points than you really need to.

Upgrading across the Tasman, including Sydney-Auckland

The value of upgrading on trans-Tasman flights drops sharply compared to domestic flights of similar lengths, as the cheapest Sale economy fares aren't eligible for upgrades, while the fare difference between business class and those higher-priced upgradeable economy fares isn't as vast.

Still, upgrading from mid-range Saver economy fares to business class gives the best value per point, while using points to secure a business class seat from the outset proves a close contender.

Surprisingly, both of those options trump upgrading from a flexible economy fare, which only surpasses upgrading points-booked tickets by fractions of a cent.

Also read: The best business class seats on trans-Tasman flights

Upgrades on popular Asia flights, such as Sydney-Singapore

On longer international flights – such as from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane to Singapore or Hong Kong – upgrading from flexible economy fares is the best way to fly business class while squeezing the most from your hard-earned points:

But upgrading from mid-range economy tickets is no longer the 'sweet spot' it once was, with outright business class reward bookings now delivering a tad more value than when using points to upgrade into the same seat.

Booking an economy class reward ticket and spending a further chunk of points to upgrade it remains a less valuable way to spend your points.

Upgrades on Qantas Airbus A380 flights to Los Angeles

Flying further afield to Los Angeles, the best ways to fly at the pointy end now include upgrading from lower-level business class fares to first class, making an outright first class reward booking and upgrading from flexible economy to business class.

Stuck down the back on a lower-cost economy fare instead? You'll actually want to think twice before upgrading, with points-based upgrades to premium economy now one of the worst ways to spend your points across the Pacific and the same true of premium economy reward bookings.

Upgrading economy reward flights to premium economy also isn't as attractive, so instead, aim to upgrade from economy straight to business class if you have enough points, or even book a business class reward seat if you can.

Upgrades from Sydney and Melbourne to London Heathrow

Provided you can swing it, making a first class reward booking or an upgrade from flexible business class to first class remains great value.

Jumping forward from from flexible economy to business class is also one of the better ways to go, as is using your points to book business class outright, to upgrade from premium economy to business class and to upgrade from mid-range economy to business class.

Outright premium economy bookings and upgrades here from economy again lag in the value stakes, as does upgrading lower-level business class fares to first class.

However, using those 24,000 points to swap an economy ticket for a premium economy seat right through to London means you're only parting with 1,000 points an hour on that much more comfortable journey: so while the monetary 'value' may be limited, many travellers will still find great worth overall.

In all cases, we've calculated the cash value per point based on the cost of Qantas commercial fares for travel in February 2017, with the 'value' of upgrades being the difference in fare price between one class and category of service (e.g. flexible economy) and a higher class (e.g. business class), divided by the number of points needed for that upgrade.

In establishing the value of outright reward bookings, we've assessed the number of points required to make that booking against the one-way cash price of the same travel class on domestic and trans-Tasman routes, and against 50% of the return ticket cost in that same travel class on longer international routes.

Connect with other business travellers in our Qantas discussion group

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!


  • markpk


    11 Jan, 2017 05:42 am

    Well done on such a comprehensive comparison Chris & co...

    Using points to upgrade as long been my preference as I've viewed the redemption as having the highest perceived and actual value - the perceived value is based on my personal desire to earn status credits on flights so as to maintain status vs others who may choose to focus on points earn only. 

    A key question I have is how this now compares to other popular redemption options i.e. using points in the FF Store, or a points only ticket purchase... 
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  • downdata


    11 Jan, 2017 01:20 pm

    What does upgrades have any thing to do with SC earn? Dont you only earn SC / pts at the original cash fare rate?
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  • Chris Chamberlin


    11 Jan, 2017 02:48 pm

    I imagine the comment referred to earning status credits on paid tickets which were upgraded with points (which still earn status credits at the lower-cabin rates), versus using points to book a flight outright on which no status credits would be earned. :)
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  • downdata


    11 Jan, 2017 03:00 pm

    Makes sense. Though you'd probably not get a very good $/SC ratio on flex fares (or Y fares in general).
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  • Serg


    11 Jan, 2017 04:15 pm

    Points only tickets were very well presented in article - just read it carefully. Spending point in Qantas Store is as usual and basically means pissing money (sorry, point) on the wind.
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  • Melbin


    11 Jan, 2017 08:33 am

    Really helpful article! Thanks
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  • anthony watts

    anthony watts

    11 Jan, 2017 10:54 am

    While your comparions are great, they don't reflect my real life experience. While having made quite a few trans pac flights over the last few years (av say 6 per year) at no time has the difference between business and PE been as low as $1095. In my experience the business flight has always been double the PE ticket, and if you can get a discount PE ticket its even greater. So my 45k FF points have been well used! BTW i have managed to get an upgrade only all except one of those flights, so i feel i have done well out of the partnership!
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  • Paul Coniglio


    11 Jan, 2017 05:00 pm

    Hi Anthony are you Gold, Platinum or P1 with Q?
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  • Drew Franklin


    11 Jan, 2017 01:07 pm

    Great article Chris. Flying the A380 in business class next week and have a First upgrade request that was done prior to the increase, seems its still one of the best value upgrades. Will be using this article again!
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  • traveller99


    11 Jan, 2017 03:05 pm

    The QF A380 Business Class is now the least attractive offering for US flights.  Recently flew AA, and their business is far superior in terms of cabin and seats + wi-fi.  Food is a bit better than AA, but seriously anyone who things Qantas (or anyone's) business class meals are "restaurant" quality is obviously not dining at the same restaurants as I do.  

    QF Skybed on the A380 is really poor.  It sags and the lack of personal space is woeful.  When (if ever) will Qantas update A380 business to that which we see on the A330?
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  • aggie57


    11 Jan, 2017 04:34 pm

    Definitely agree the A380 skybeds are well past their use by date.  While I like the business cabin, the beds do sag and you're very short of places to put things unless you have a window bin.  The best way to get a decent bed, I find, is to actually raise the top (head) section slightly so it's in line with the foot part.
    On the other hand 1st class beds are the best.  At 6'3" I need all the length I can get and these beds are long, flat, wide, and solid.  
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  • Carl


    11 Jan, 2017 01:18 pm

    Great helpful article.

    You should create a calculator that can be used to work all this out or a Google spreadsheet others can download. 
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  • Tim Saunders

    Tim Saunders

    11 Jan, 2017 03:20 pm

    What an excellent article, AusBT, this is great advice and I'll be using it to plan my next few QF trips to Asia and the USA.
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  • Melbzone


    11 Jan, 2017 04:04 pm

    Pardon my language, this new Qantas increasing rates from Feb 2017 is a real B***S***!  The points earned is getting more mean and decreased since two years ago yet they are asking for more earned points for upgrades or redemption!  I am ditching QF soon for another airlines.  I do not see the value of being loyal to QF anymore as their service (customer service is far from satisfactory) and products are deteriorating (cabin seats are dirty) and confirmation of upgrade only comes 24 hours before where other airlines are more generous.  Price is not competitive on the market compared to other airlines.  Sad it is I have to let go a brand I am very much loyal to for years.  
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  • Spy


    11 Jan, 2017 04:05 pm

    Great article. I did similar sums a few years ago comparing the value of using points at the Qantas store, gift vouchers etc. It worked out that most offerings, apart from flight rewards and upgrades were worth approx 1 cent or less per point.  Based on earning rates of 1 point per dollar spent, I have since refused to pay by credit card where the surcharge exceeded 1%, and have used points only for flights. It would be great if you could to update on this in a future article.
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  • Andrew Graham


    11 Jan, 2017 04:08 pm

    Excellent summary, well laid out.
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  • Serg


    11 Jan, 2017 04:12 pm

    when it came to long legs (like SIN and beyond) I would value guaranteed seat far more than mythical upgrade. So I rather book (of course if I can) classic award business than get economy and then upgrade to business. With upgrade from business to first is completely different story - business is already comfy enough, so why not try to indulge yourself? PE as usual poorest value (does not worth to spend money or points) and I clearly steer away from it
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  • patrickk


    11 Jan, 2017 05:01 pm

    When I get lifetime gold in a couple of years then business awards make sense, but until then it is points plus pay or the upgrade lottery. Those status credits increase in value the closer you get to lifetime gold.
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  • Steve Hui


    11 Jan, 2017 06:13 pm

    Great analysis. 

    Upgrades is the best value in a technical & financial sense.
    But in a practical sense, you need to have high status or luck on your side to score the upgrade.

    For those flying on other people's money, upgrades with points is the best choice they have. 

    If you can choose, I prefer the path of finding a reward ticket and then have the certainty of flying business class.
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  • Adam T


    11 Jan, 2017 07:24 pm

    Upgrades are one of the most valued part of QFF program for me as a Platinum. I just love the Qantas system, I've only missed out a few times and flights where full anyway. 
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  • kiwiwings


    11 Jan, 2017 08:31 pm

    GREAT REVIEW!! I'll be book marking this one! I've been scratching my head as how best to use them. 
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  • Jenny White


    11 Jan, 2017 10:43 pm

    Really helpful article and analysis Chris, thank You! Always enjoy and learn from Aus BT. Like others, I will be keeping this article for future reference!!
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  • Gary Glover


    12 Jan, 2017 06:22 pm

    Could you please clarify how Qantas prioritises upgrades to Business from Premium Economy and Economy. Currently I am lowly Bronze. If I pay for a premium economy seat I accept that I rank behind paid premium economy seat applicants for upgrades to business who are platinum, gold or silver. How do I rank compared to a paid economy applicant who is platinum etc?
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  • patrickk


    13 Jan, 2017 07:13 pm

    Astro boy I think your premium economy fare may trump a platinum economy, but they do look after their platinums.
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  • flatout


    17 Apr, 2017 02:11 pm

    The only time (Jan 17) I pressed the upgrade button, HND-SYD, got us Skybed Mark1's (or a badly broken Mk2). I didn't think they still had Mk1's?
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  • mviy


    8 Aug, 2017 01:49 pm

    There are still Mk1's on some 747s but QF is retiring those 747s as the 787s will replace some of the 747 fleet.
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  • anne schmidt


    5 Aug, 2017 12:38 pm

    never been able to gain an upgrade using points
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  • mviy


    23 Aug, 2017 04:35 pm

    How many passengers have you been trying to upgrade? The more passengers the more unlikely you are to be successful.

    What's your status with QANTAS Frequent Flyer? If you are Bronze then you're going to be at the bottom of the upgrade queue. With each status tier you go up your upgrade chances improve.

    Also being flexible in picking off peak days and off peak times of the year to travel helps as well.
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  • John


    8 Aug, 2017 04:13 pm

    I'm QF Gold and we only use points for upgrades
    6 of 7 requests  have been met
    The only non starter was Lax-Syd from J to First 
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  • mviy


    23 Aug, 2017 04:42 pm

    Upgrades to First can be very hard to get. Many with Platinum, Platinum One and Chairman's Lounge status only book Business so their opportunity to use their points is for upgrades to First.

    Obviously there are a number of other ones that mainly/only book economy and fly a heap, but there are enough that book Business and go in the upgrade queue to make things difficult.

    Also you could have just been unfortunate with a larger number than on other days paying cash for First class seats.

    Also some Golds may be ahead of you in the upgrade chances.
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22 Jul, 2019 10:42 pm


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